NTS LogoSkeptical News for 18 November 2001

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Sunday, November 18, 2001

Psychics join the manhunt

Your tax dollars at work:


US intelligence agencies are recruiting psychics to help predict future attacks and to find Osama Bin Laden. The recruits, known as "remote viewers", claim to be able to visualise happenings in distant places by using paranormal powers.

The US government established a remote viewing programme, known as Stargate, in the 1970s in an attempt to utilise the skills claimed by psychics to combat communism. The programme, at the Stanford Research Institute in California, was shut down in 1995 after the end of the cold war.

Now, however, US intelligence agencies are reactivating some of their old paranormal spies.

Prudence Calabrese, whose Transdimensional Systems employs 14 remote viewers, confirmed that the FBI had asked the company to predict likely targets of future terrorist attacks.

"Our reports suggest a sports stadium could be a likely target," she said. The FBI and CIA refused to comment but confirmed investigators have been told to "think out of the box".

Angela Thompson-Smith and Lyn Buchanan, former members of Stargate, said that they, too, had been approached.

Book Review: It Ain't Necessarily So:

Medscape General Medicine

Book Review

It Ain't Necessarily So: How Media Make and Unmake the Scientific Picture of Reality

By David Murray, Joel Schwartz, S. Robert Lichter Rowman & Littlefield
Copyright 2001
249 pages
ISBN: 0-7425-1095-6
$24.95 hardcover

Reviewed by: Cathy Tokarski


At a time when the nation is gripped by the fear of bioterrorism and seeks definitive answers from the federal government, a new book that examines the media's less-than-rigorous reporting on scientific findings and its influence on policy-making and public opinion is especially timely.

David Murray, director of the Statistical Assessment Service in Washington, D.C., Joel Schwartz, senior adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute, an Indianapolis-based think tank, and S. Robert Lichter, president of the Center for Media and Public Affairs in Washington, D.C., draw a troubling picture of the gullibility of media coverage of studies in the natural and social sciences. They look at the agenda-driven mission of advocacy groups that sponsor these works, and the dependence of politicians on research-supported "solutions," and offer up a wealth of examples from print and television coverage to illustrate this dilemma.

Their insights into the way scientific studies are formulated, conducted, and reported by the press illustrate how biased or misleading -- or even grossly inaccurate -- some news reports can be. Since consumers of this information can be subject to unwitting manipulation, the authors assert, they must become more skeptical about how to better assess research findings, determine their value, and communicate that knowledge.

Extensively referenced and well written, It Ain't Necessarily So is divided into 3 sections. The first describes the media's troubling tendency to ignore findings that suggest a positive trend, such as the declining number of AIDS diagnoses in the mid-1990s, or to slant the findings in a more negative, but attention-getting, manner. The authors also skewer the media's tendency to elevate preliminary but compelling research findings, such as a nonpeer-reviewed study on the effects of day care on the mother-infant relationship.

The second section, examining the ambiguity of measuring scientific and social phenomena, could serve as an introductory (though more entertaining) course in statistics. Witty commentary, vivid examples, and sharp insight make what could be a tedious exercise in dissecting research methodology an entertaining and instructive guide. In 5 chapters, the authors examine the perils of "tomato statistics," or cases where news reports draw attention to what appears to be a high number of incidents such as date rape or domestic assault but in fact are fueled by faulty research assumptions and definitions.

Readers also learn the vulnerabilities of research findings that rely on proxy instead of direct measurement; the tendency of data to be used to support only 1 conclusion, not several plausible conclusions; and the tendency of the media to exaggerate health and environmental risks. Examples used to illustrate this section, such as misleading statistics about AIDS among women and a rise in mortality from infectious diseases, may serve as a helpful model to the physician or healthcare professional asked by patients to explain the significance of the latest health news report.

While the book is replete with examples of incomplete reporting and biased research, the authors frequently point out the steps that readers can take to become better consumers of scientific information. In some cases, such as reporting on the incidence rates and risk of breast cancer, reporting has grown more sophisticated, the authors state. A widespread perception that 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer has been refined in recent years by the media to reflect the fact that lifetime risk is not the same as the risk a woman faces at any one point in her life. "Activist contentions have repeatedly been questioned, and alternative interpretations of the statistics have been readily offered," the authors state. "In this notable instance, the print media have often excelled at explaining the realities of risk" (123).

The ongoing debate over to what extent research is influenced by industry sponsorship will make the final section of particular interest to many readers.

In one example, the authors relate the uproar that ensued in 1996 following publication of a study concluding that women who had abortions faced a slightly increased risk of breast cancer than women who did not. Instead of closely examining the study results or questioning its methodology, the Philadelphia Inquirer focused on the coauthor's personal views, which included speaking out in Christian media outlets and serving as an expert witness for antiabortion groups in Philadelphia federal court.

"All that may be true," the authors point out, but it is unclear why it is relevant. "Should only pro-choice researchers be allowed to study the medical effects of abortion?" (153). The Inquirer also failed to point out that one of the study's coauthors was pro-choice, and that the study was published in a peer-reviewed journal.

A second example showed reporting by the print media, but not network television, capable of more discriminating coverage. A 1996 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that women with breast implants face a small increased risk of developing connective tissue disease. The lion's share of the $18.3 million study came from the National Institutes of Health ($17 million); the remaining $1.3 million came from Dow Corning, the company that manufactured silicone breast implants until they were banned in the United States in 1992. Dow did not learn of the study results until shortly before they were published.

In covering the JAMA study's findings, articles published in the Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, and The New York Times mentioned Dow's financial contribution to the research without suggesting that it tainted the validity of the results. Articles included quotes by the leading researcher who underscored the importance of the "arm's length" relationship between Dow's participation and the study's findings. However, a report on CBS Evening News highlighted Dow's funding without stating the amount, and declared that future studies from Harvard and the NIH "will try to assess the real risk" of breast implants and connective tissue disease.

In its concluding chapter, the authors acknowledge that their effort to bring a more rigorous examination to the proliferation of scientific studies by a harried press and results-driven advocacy organizations "may seem like the labors of Sisyphus." That may be true, but the information provided in It Ain't Necessarily So gives readers the necessary tools to begin an ascent.

Cathy Tokarski is site editor of Medscape's Money&Medicine and Managed Care sites. She can be reached at ctokarski@medscapeinc.com.

Burglar used horoscopes to plan break-ins

From Ananova at:


A Romanian burglar is reported to have told police he would only stage a break-in if the stars were in his favour.

The 29-year-old, from Cimpia Turzii, is accused of stealing money and goods from at least two homes.

He is alleged to have carried out the burglaries when his horoscope told him he was lucky.

He faces 15 years in jail for burglary, reports the National newspaper.

'UFO' was laser from nightclub roof

From Ananova at:


A suspected UFO in Essex was actually a laser pointed at the sky from a nightclub celebrating its opening night.

The lights that made circles in the sky came from Fraziers nightclub in Wickford.

Residents say they were convinced the lights were from a UFO. Police received several worried calls.

Club boss Alistair Burrell told the Evening Echo: "I am sorry to disappoint everybody but it really was nothing more than that.

"I think too many people have been watching Independence Day on the TV but I suppose the lights could look a bit like a UFO."

Resident Ellen Howard said: "I was standing outside watching them and I thought it must be a UFO. It was a bit frightening, I can tell you. But I knew I wasn't imagining it because I am of sound mind."

Witches ritual burns part of house

From Ananova at:


A US woman has had to leave her home after a pagan ritual to 'burn' her troubles destroyed part of her house.

Mary Palmieri let some of her friends perform the ritual at her house in Enfield, Connecticut.

The witchcraft ritual involved burning a piece of paper with Mary's problems written on it. The flames set fire to the house. Mary says next time she will talk to her priest instead.

The Wiccan "cleansing ritual" involves burning the paper but flames got out of hand and sparked the blaze.

Mary's bedroom was gutted and the house suffered extensive smoke and water damage.

Fire officials are ruling the fire accidental. Mary says she will rebuild her home. Its not reported if pagan rituals are covered in her home insurance.

Saturday, November 17, 2001

Nuke Manual Looks Like Internet Hoax
Al Qaeda Duped?


villagevoice.com exclusive
Mondo Washington
by James Ridgeway

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Suddenly, Al Qaeda doesn't look so smart. Just yesterday, a Times of London reporter found a cache of plans, left in a Kabul home as the Taliban retreated, that included notes for making a thermonuclear device. The papers sent a chill through the Western world, since they appeared to indicate sophisticated designs for an atom bomb. Now the online Daily Rotten says at least part of those documents photographed by the Times are taken verbatim from a "semi-famous" pseudo-document that has been circulating on the Internet for years. It's a reprint of a scientific parody called "How to Build an Atom Bomb," from the geek-humor newsletter Annals of Improbable Research, originally known as the Journal of Irreproducible Results.

In his report for the BBC, reporter Anthony Loyd held some of the papers up for the camera, giving a glimpse of documents the Daily Rotten now compares to the 1979 parody.

Even the language Loyd uses to paraphrase the abandoned material sounds like that of the satirical document.

Describing the scene in a Times article, Loyd wrote: "The vernacular quickly spun out of my comprehension but there were phrases through the mass of chemical symbols and physics jargon that anyone could understand, including notes on how the detonation of TNT compresses plutonium into a critical mass producing a nuclear chain reaction and eventually a thermo-nuclear reaction . . . ."

The parody document reads: "The device basically works when the detonated TNT compresses the Plutonium into a critical mass. The critical mass then produces a nuclear chain reaction similar to the domino chain reaction . . . .The chain reaction then promptly produces a big thermonuclear reaction. And there you have it, a 10 megaton explosion!"

To find these faux atomic-bomb plans, do a Web search for "The device basically works" or "Let's Build an Atomic Bomb!" instructs the Daily Rotten. "It gives us pause and joy to know the Taliban are wasting their time downloading what amounts to joke mail and spending time trying to discern the facts therein."

Homeland security secretary Tom Ridge acknowledged the plans had been found, but downplayed their importance. With this Daily Rotten report, the public may get a glimpse of why.

Reached at the Pentagon spokesperson Major Tim Blair said, "I can't comment on that. You can find all kinds of reports, and you have to look at which ones are credible. We issue briefings and press releases, but we don't talk about anything dealing with intelligence. I'm not throwing stones, but the media should check the credibility of their sources. You all have to do your job."

The foreign editor who handled the story for the Times was not immediately available for comment.


With reporting by Sarah Park

Friday, November 16, 2001

Science In the News

The following roundup of science stories appearing each day in the general media is compiled by the Media Resource Service, Sigma Xi's referral service for journalists in need of sources of scientific expertise.

For accurate instructions on how to subscribe or unsubscribe to the listserv, follow this link: http://www.mediaresource.org/instruct.htm

If you experience any problems with the URLs (page not found, page expired, etc.), we suggest you proceed to the home page of "Science In the News" http://www.mediaresource.org/news.htm which mirrors the daily e-mail update.


Today's Headlines - November 16, 2001

from The Boston Globe

LONDON - A judge ruled yesterday that Britain has no laws governing human cloning, despite Parliament's attempt this year to regulate research under an existing law.

In a global first, Parliament passed regulations in January under a 1990 act to permit cloning to create embryos for stem cell research.

The regulations were attacked in court by antiabortion campaigners, who fear cloning may be used for human reproduction. But the effect of their victory is to leave scientists free to continue research, unfettered by any regulation at all.

The government, which has not yet licensed any cloning research, said it was considering whether to appeal.

Antiabortion campaigners, worried that regulations did not outlaw cloned babies, convinced a judge that British law defined an embryo as being created by the fertilization of an egg.

Cloning involves the nucleus of an egg being mechanically replaced by the nucleus from a different cell.

"Scientific knowledge has moved on,'' said Judge Peter Crane. ''Not only has nuclear substitution proved to be possible in animals, but it has become clear that (cell nuclear replacement) has potential for research purposes that was not known in 1990."

He said he could not rewrite the 1990 Act to make it apply to organisms produced by cloning. The Department of Health said in a statement that it might appeal, or it might introduce emergency legislation to ban human reproductive cloning.


from The Boston Globe

WASHINGTON - A plan to spend more than $3 billion to combat bioterrorism was proposed in the Senate yesterday amid cries that the nation is woefully unprepared for such an attack. The Bush administration supported the concept but balked at the cost.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson was set to begin spending the money. He said he hoped that negotiations to buy about 250 million doses of smallpox vaccine would be finished by next week.

In Boca Raton, Fla., where the anthrax attack first hit, testing found anthrax in more than 30 spots inside the American Media building. Health officials suggested there must have been more than one tainted letter sent to the tabloid publisher, although none has been found.

Six weeks after the anthrax-by-mail attack began, interest in bioterrorism preparation was intense on Capitol Hill.

Members of the House Commerce Committee were working on their own bioterrorism package. It was unclear whether Democrats would join Republicans in sponsoring the bill, but there was widespread agreement on the problem. Virtually every member of the panel wanted more attention and more money devoted to the problem. Many cited the crumbling facilities at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the lack of training on the local level.


from The Los Angeles Times

NEW YORK -- A routine encounter with turbulence from another jetliner turned deadly with stunning swiftness as the pilots on American Airlines Flight 587--who had trained for just such an event--lost control of the plane within seconds, federal investigators said Thursday.

Information from the Airbus A300's flight data recorder showed three rapid sideways movements after Flight 587 crossed the wakes of a larger plane ahead. The movements were well within what the A300 was designed to handle, investigators said. But seconds later, the pilots lost control as the plane's tail fin apparently fell off.

"This is a very significant lateral acceleration we are talking about," said National Transportation Safety Board Chairwoman Marion C. Blakey. The movements may be the key to understanding how the plane's tail fin broke away without any evidence of outside damage--an event virtually unheard of in commercial aviation. "Possibly that was the precursor," said Greg Feith, a former senior air crash investigator for the NTSB.

Blakey said the Federal Aviation Administration and its French counterpart are preparing to order mandatory inspections of A300 tail fins, a sweeping action that would affect all 91 of the wide-body planes in service in the United States and more than 400 worldwide. The A300 is built by Airbus Industrie, a European consortium based in France.


from The Richmond Times-Disptach

WASHINGTON - A microscopic cancer "smart bomb" powered by a radioactive atom is able to find and kill tumor cells in laboratory experiments.

Dr. David A. Scheinberg of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York said tests of the technique in mice show that it selectively kills cancer cells and substantially prolongs the life of lab animals with tumors.

"You could inject several million of these molecules and they would circulate around, find their targets cells, be taken inside and then kill the cells," said Scheinberg. "These are extraordinarily potent drugs."

Scheinberg said he hopes to start human clinical trials with the technique next year.

He said before the technique could become a routine therapy for cancer patients, researchers need to find out if the low-level radiation will cause unacceptable levels of damage to normal, noncancerous cells.

A report on the research appears today in the journal Science.

In their study, Scheinberg and his associates created a cancer smart bomb by putting a single atom of actinium-225, a radioactive isotope, inside a microscopic cage made by Dow Chemical Co. in Freeport, Texas.

The isotope is a byproduct of nuclear power plants and nuclear weapons manufacturing. It radiates a low-level dose of alpha particles. As it decays, actinium-225 produces three daughter atoms, each of which also gives out alpha particles.


from The Rocky Mountain News

CRAWFORD, Texas (AP) - The United States will push ahead with aggressive testing of missile defenses, White House officials said after President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin ended their summit without agreement on the disputed program.

"The timeline has not really changed," national security adviser Condoleezza Rice told reporters after Bush bid his Russian counterpart a warm farewell Thursday at Bush's central Texas ranch.

"The president continues to believe that he has got to move forward with the testing program in a robust way, so that we can really begin to evaluate the potential for missile defenses," Rice said.

Putin, who went to New York, told National Public Radio later Thursday that, since he and Bush have a common goal of ensuring security, ``We will, at the end of the day, be able to arrive at a solution that will be acceptable for everyone."


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New type of oxygen found - Your News from Ananova

Italian scientists have found a new form of oxygen.

Until now the only known forms have been the oxygen in the air that we breath and ozone.

The new type has four oxygen atoms bonded together within a small place and might be used as a high energy fuel.

Full story: http://www.ananova.com/yournews/story/sm_450818.html

2001-11-07 EDITORIAL: Alabama Education Initiative

[from Mini-AIR, November 2001]

The Alabama Board of Education has voted to keep putting stickers on biology textbooks to warn that evolution is "a controversial theory." (The board has been doing this since 1996).

In our view this is commendable. It is one of the few actions any stuffy government committee has ever taken that might actually encourage students to become curious about what is in their textbooks.

Our criticism -- yes, we do have one -- is that this move does not go far enough. If the Alabama Board of Education truly wants students to be aware that the subject is worth discussing, we urge them to add a second sticker, printed in bold red type, saying:


Thursday, November 15, 2001

Going for the flow

Growing ranks of devotees seek Falun Gong's 'energy healing'

By Tara H. Arden-Smith, Globe Correspondent, 11/15/2001


Tim Bourget is stretching, trying to empty his mind and open his energy channels in a ''standing stance'' exercise, the first of the night: ''Buddha Showing 1,000 Hands.''

He seeks the same flowing force of energy and inner peace that have attracted millions to the practice of Falun Gong, now banned in China.

Science In the News

The following roundup of science stories appearing each day in the general media is compiled by the Media Resource Service, Sigma Xi's referral service for journalists in need of sources of scientific expertise.

For accurate instructions on how to subscribe or unsubscribe to the listserv, follow this link: http://www.mediaresource.org/instruct.htm

If you experience any problems with the URLs (page not found, page expired, etc.), we suggest you proceed to the home page of "Science In the News" http://www.mediaresource.org/news.htm which mirrors the daily e-mail update.


Today's Headlines - November 15, 2001

from The Los Angeles Times

NEW YORK -- American Airlines said Wednesday it will begin inspecting its Airbus A300 jets for possible weaknesses in their tail fins as evidence mounted that Flight 587 ran into turbulence from a larger plane shortly before it crashed.

The American Airlines jet is now believed to have been closer than previously thought to a Japan Air Lines Boeing 747 that had taken off one minute and 45 seconds earlier, National Transportation Safety Board investigators said. Nonetheless, at four to five miles apart, the two planes were still within prescribed separation standards.

NTSB Chairwoman Marion C. Blakey said the flight paths and altitudes of the two planes, coupled with wind speed and direction, "would be consistent with a wake vortex encounter."

Wake turbulence is invisible, caused by horizontal tornadoes that spin from the wings of a larger aircraft. It is a long-recognized cause of control problems for pilots--but usually in smaller aircraft. The phenomenon was blamed for the 1994 crash of a private jet that was following a much larger Boeing 757 landing at John Wayne Airport in Orange County. All five people aboard the business jet died.

Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Administration said it had sent its chief scientist to the accident scene and stood ready to mandate inspections or other corrective actions at any sign of a tail fin problem that might affect other aircraft. There are about 430 of the twin-engine, wide-body A300s in service around the world.


from The Miami Herald

For the overwhelming majority of Americans, the primary threat of the anthrax scare isn't bacteria; nor is the top risk of terrorism a suicide bomber. It's the stress these threats arouse that's far more likely to cause harm or even death.

In surveys before the horrors of Sept. 11, Americans repeatedly pinpointed stress as their No. 1 health concern, according to Harvard University's Mind/Body Medical Institute in Boston. More than half those surveyed said they faced major stress most days.

In this new age of stress, creative coping and relaxation techniques, not closets full of gas masks and antibiotics, are the crucial treatments for minds and bodies thrown off course, say health experts.

"Most people are reacting like this is a major traumatic life event," said South Miami-Dade family physician Dr. Nancy Eklund. Eklund is medical director of the collaborative medicine program at South Miami Hospital, which offers stress-reduction classes and yoga- and tai chi-style exercise.


from The Boston Globe

The nation's first recipient of a self-contained artificial heart has suffered a stroke and is ''much less likely'' to return home by Christmas as he had hoped as early as last week, doctors said.

Robert Tools, 59, was preparing for an interview with the media on Sunday when he began noticing weakness on his right side, said Dr. Robert Dowling, one of the surgeons in the case. Throughout Monday, Tools could still speak, but he lost that ability sometime on Tuesday. He can now move his right leg, but cannot move his right arm, doctors said.

"It's too early to say how much recovery he'll have,'' Dowling said in a phone interview after yesterday's press conference at Jewish Hospital in Louisville, Ky. ''The prognosis after stroke is very difficult. I would say it's much less likely he'd go home by Christmas."

The stroke represents the first major setback for Tools, whose medical progress and upbeat attitude has surpassed surgeons' expectations. Doctors initially hoped Tools could live for at least 60 days, and as of yesterday, he was on his 136th day of life since his surgery on July 2.


from The Chicago Tribune

WASHINGTON -- A top official with the National Transportation Safety Board urged federal regulators Wednesday to place more warning labels on household drugs such as cold medicines that can trigger drowsiness and cause accidents on roads, railways and in the air.

"Over-the-counter medicines and prescription drugs contribute to transportation accidents," said Carol Carmody, vice chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board. "We have made recommendations to address some aspects of the issue. We have not solved it yet."

The safety board has investigated more than 150 accidents in the last 14 years involving drivers, pilots or other operators who may have been impaired by over-the-counter or prescription medications. Transportation officials say drug companies do not provide enough guidance on labels to help people determine the effects of common medicines.


from The Houston Chronicle

Sean O' Keefe, who recently coordinated a hard-nosed assessment of NASA's soaring international space station costs, was named Wednesday by President Bush to run the troubled agency.

Currently deputy director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, O'Keefe faces Senate confirmation before he can take over the $14.2 billion-a-year space program and its 18,000 workers.

A former secretary of the Navy and a one-time chief financial officer for the Pentagon, O'Keefe brings strong management skills and close ties to the White House. But unlike most of his nine predecessors, he arrives with little first-hand knowledge of the risks of space exploration.

"As a key adviser to the president, O'Keefe has a strong relationship with the White House, and his appointment signals the importance the president places on the leadership of NASA," said White House spokesman Jimmy Orr.

O'Keefe, 45, would replace Dan Goldin, the agency's longest-serving administrator, who retires at the end of this week after 9 1/2 years in the post.


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The First Skeptic CD

From: Barry Williams skeptics@mail.kasm.com.au

Last weekend Australian Skeptics launched The Great Skeptic CD, which contains the collected wisdom from 20 years (1981-2000) of the Skeptic.

The CD contains the full text of In The Beginning, a book we produced several years ago as a compilation of all the original articles from the Skeptic from 1981-85, and a similar treatment of the issues from 1986-90, which we have made into a virtual book entitled The Second Coming.

From 1991 to 2000, the magazines are exactly as they appeared in their original format (with a few of the more egregious typos and other editorial cock-ups removed). Also included is the full text (slightly updated) of our books Creationism: An Australian Perspective and Skeptical, which were published in the mid-1980s. Additionally it contains a number of colour stills from assorted TV programmes Oz Skeptics have appeared in over the years, one series of which charts the 20 year physical decline of a member of this list (a sort of Dorian Grey treatment).

The disc contains over 4000 pages which can be read with equal facility on PC and Mac platforms. It is fully indexed and has a powerful search function. This is the first such project ever completed by any Skeptics group anywhere, and we are pretty cocky about it.

We will be selling it through our magazine and web sites for $A55 (incl p&p) however, members of this list can also buy it by contacting me as below.

Not that I'm using the list for commercial purposes or anything.

Barry Williams
Executive Officer
Australian Skeptics Inc
PO Box 268
Roseville NSW 2069
Tel 61 2 9417 2071
Fax 61 2 9417 7930

Wednesday, November 14, 2001

Science In the News

The following roundup of science stories appearing each day in the general media is compiled by the Media Resource Service, Sigma Xi's referral service for journalists in need of sources of scientific expertise.

For accurate instructions on how to subscribe or unsubscribe to the listserv, follow this link: http://www.mediaresource.org/instruct.htm

If you experience any problems with the URLs (page not found, page expired, etc.), we suggest you proceed to the home page of "Science In the News" http://www.mediaresource.org/news.htm which mirrors the daily e-mail update.


Today's Headlines - November 14, 2001

from The Boston Globe

On the site of the antiquated Charles Street Jail, a pair of three-story, 100-ton gantries support some of the most sophisticated medical technology in the country - a $50 million device built to attack cancer with a stream of particles moving at just under the speed of light.

On the receiving end of the particle beam yesterday was Jonathan Barres, a father of six, who simply had to slip off his shoes, don a special mask and lie on a ''couch'' as doctors used robotics to direct the particles with pinpoint precision. With four one-minute blasts of radiation, Barres became the first patient treated at the nation's most advanced proton beam center.

''This is not a cure-all for cancer, but it's a major step forward for radiation oncology,'' said Barres's doctor, Jay S. Loeffler, director of the new center at Massachusetts General Hospital. ''With this very precise technology, we hope to have a positive impact on patient survival.''

Unlike traditional radiation therapy, which uses high-energy X-rays and costs about half as much, proton therapy spares the tissues around the cancer. It is the recommended treatment for some skull- and spine-based cancers, and certain eye tumors. It is particularly useful in cancers where traditional radiation causes severe side effects or cannot be given in high enough doses to help, said Loeffler, who is chairman of radiation oncology at Mass. General.


from Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A gene that helps regulate heart rhythm has been linked with sudden infant death syndrome, (SIDS), and may help explain some of the baffling deaths of apparently healthy babies in their sleep, doctors said on Tuesday.

The gene, called SCN5A, helps control how heart cells use sodium to regulate their electrical rhythm, said Dr. Michael Ackerman and colleagues at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

"This is step one of many that could eventually prevent SIDS," Ackerman said in a statement. "This study attempts to make SIDS less of a mysterious black box. We're just starting to be able to identify those infants that may be at risk for SIDS and take steps to prevent the incidence of death."


from The New York Times

Experts on nuclear arms are uncertain how many weapons would actually be dismantled under President Bush's proposal and how many simply placed in some kind of storage, where they would no longer be "operationally deployed," in his words.

But American weapons destined for destruction will end up at the Pantex plant near the Texas panhandle town of Amarillo, the place where warheads are made and where they go to die. The plant, a place of concrete bunkers surrounded by razor wire and patrolled by guards armed with machine guns, has been taking apart thousands of decommissioned weapons for decades.

The final resting place for the plutonium "pits," or nuclear cores, of the disassembled bombs, is less clear. So far, they have simply been stockpiled at Pantex.

The United States has produced about 100 tons of plutonium, the prime fuel for thermonuclear bombs, said David Albright, a defense expert who is president of the Institute for Science and International Security.


from The New York Times

WASHINGTON, Nov. 13 - Officials of the United States Holocaust Museum said today that they had discovered and preserved a cache of decaying documents and artifacts from one of the lesser-known but most brutal concentration camps of World War II. The camp, known as Jasenovac, was operated in Croatia by the Ustasha, the Nazi puppet government.

The artifacts were found deteriorating in a building in Banja Luka in the Serbian part of Bosnia last year, officials said.

Peter Black, the museum's chief historian, told reporters today that Jasenovac was crude in comparison to the industrialized Nazi extermination camps like Auschwitz. Mr. Black said there were no gas chambers or crematories, so prisoners were murdered one by one with axes, guns, knives or prolonged torture. Bodies were buried or thrown into the adjacent Sava River.

Jasenovac (pronounced ya-SEN- oh-vatz), actually a complex of five camps about 60 miles from the Croatian capital, Zagreb, has been little studied in the West, but the history has long resonated in the modern Balkans, where analysts and historians have debated about how much of the region's violence may be traced to historic ethnic enmities.


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NY Woman Killed Daughter in Exorcism


Articles of Note

From: Barry Karr SkeptInq@aol.com

Be wary of latest merchants of doom
by Jeff Gelles
Philadelphia Inquirer


"In the aftermath of Sept. 11 and the anthrax attacks, it's natural that people would be searching for ways to protect themselves and their families from all manner of perils, real or imagined."

Spiritual Medium to the Stars
ET Online


"JAMES VAN PRAAGH has been stunning the scientific community for years with his astounding abilities as a spiritual medium. Our JANN CARL got the lowdown on psychic stars, BONNIE LEE BAKLEY, James' new book, Heaven and Earth: Making the Psychic Connection, and his September 11 premonition! "

Vaccinations hurt by scare tactics: study
by Tom Blackwell
National Post


"Canada's buffer against numerous infectious diseases is at risk because of growing opposition to vaccination based on fear, myth and philosophical objection, a newly divulged Health Canada report says."

Super FuelMAX Marketers Settle FTC Charges
Federal Trade Commission


"The marketers of the Super FuelMAX automotive fuel-line magnet, advertised as providing dramatic fuel-saving and emissions-reducing benefits, have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that their claims were unsubstantiated. The settlement would bar the Gadget Universe catalog and its CEO from misrepresenting the actual benefits or efficacy of any supposedly fuel-saving or emissions-reducing products for motor vehicles. It would also prohibit misrepresentations about testimonials, endorsements, tests, or research."

Alabama keeps evolution warning on books
Associated Press


"There was plenty of debate when Alabama began putting stickers in its students' biology textbooks warning that evolution is a "controversial theory.""

Police warn of possible pyramid scheme
by Tim Eberly
Havre Daily News


"Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, unless it’s asking you to break the law."

'Rumors of War': Facts, myths in cyberspace
By Michel Moutot
Agence France-Presse


"Like most visitors to cyberspace, Barbara and David Mikkelson were awash in the torrent of rumors that inundated the Internet in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, which ranged from ridiculous to plausible, hair-raising to reassuring."

NY Woman Killed Daughter in Exorcism

NEW YORK (AP) - A woman who believed her 4-year-old daughter was possessed by demons killed the girl while attempting an exorcism, authorities said Tuesday.

Sabrina Wright, 29, was charged with murder and being evaluated at a local hospital. An autopsy showed the girl was drowned, according to the medical examiner's office.

``She was trying to exorcise some demons,'' said Jennifer Falk, a spokeswoman for the city's Administration for Children's Services.

Authorities were investigating why the child was with her mother instead of a relative who had been awarded custody in 1999.

Tuesday, November 13, 2001

Science In the News

The following roundup of science stories appearing each day in the general media is compiled by the Media Resource Service, Sigma Xi's referral service for journalists in need of sources of scientific expertise.

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Today's Headlines - November 13, 2001

from The Associated Press

Experts in the Journal of the American Medical Association say inhaled anthrax is a treatable infection and not a sure death sentence if doctors recognize the disease early and treat it aggressively.

An analysis in JAMA of the 10 recent cases shows that if doctors speedily give patients a constellation of antibiotics, along with aggressively treating symptoms such as the accumulation of fluid in the chest, there is a high rate of survival.

"The fact that six of these patients have survived gives hope that the published mortality rates of 86 to 97 percent for inhalational anthrax may not be accurate in the year 2001," Dr. Anthony S. Fauci and Dr. H. Clifford Lane, both of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, said in the JAMA editorial.

The rate of survival - 60 percent for the recent inhalational cases - could well improve for future infections because doctors across the country now are so aware of anthrax and its symptoms.


from Reuters

TOKYO (Reuters) - Researchers on Tuesday were probing an accident at a key Japanese physics laboratory near Tokyo that could prove a costly setback into global research on neutrinos, ghostly particles that constantly bombard the earth.

The accident at the ground-breaking Super-Kamiokande laboratory, a huge underground chamber built more than half a mile down a zinc mine, has rendered it unusable for an undetermined period of time and may have caused some $16.61 million worth of damage, an official at the Education, Science and Technology ministry said.

"This is a terrible thing for science," the official said of the accident on Monday morning, in which thousands of light sensors were damaged.

"There is only one other facility like this in the world, so this is likely to slow research into neutrinos altogether."

The Super-Kamiokande facility has been acclaimed by scientists throughout the world for its 1998 discovery that neutrinos possess mass, a significant find in the world of particle physics.


from The Baltimore Sun

The Johns Hopkins University barred a biologist yesterday from directing experiments on humans after concluding that she performed a cancer drug trial in India without following safety procedures.

Ru Chih C. Huang, a professor at the school of arts and sciences, didn't seek university or government approval for a test of a chemical derived from the creosote bush on the oral cancers of 26 people, according to the university.

Huang, a faculty member at the Homewood campus since 1965, should have tested the chemicals more thoroughly on animals to determine whether they were toxic before giving them to people, according to university officials.

Administrators have no evidence that anyone was harmed by Huang's activities. But because of the potential for danger, the university has prohibited the professor from leading similar research, university officials said yesterday.


from The New York Times

Competing for companies and consumers seeking reliable weather information, commercial forecasters are sharply expanding the boundaries of their predictions.

Not long ago, five, six or seven days was considered the practical limit for accurately forecasting temperature and precipitation in a particular place at a particular time.

But the Weather Channel, on its Weather.com Web site, and its archrival, AccuWeather.com, two of the largest commercial purveyors of weather information, have been leaping into the forecasting future.

Last fall, Weather.com pushed its ZIP-code-by-ZIP- code predictions out from 7 days to 10. The move closely followed a substantial expansion of the National Weather Service's medium-range forecasts to include average conditions 8 to 14 days in the future. These forecasts are the foundation on which the commercial products are built.


from The New York Times

In 480 B.C., King Xerxes of Persia ordered his men to build a canal a mile and a quarter long through a peninsula in northern Greece - conceivably one of the biggest engineering assignments of its time.

The canal was critical to Xerxes' plan of invading Greece, a goal that his general, Mardonius, had unsuccessfully attempted 12 years earlier. Mardonius' fleet was destroyed in a storm while sailing around the tip of the peninsula, and Xerxes wanted to avoid a similar setback by building the canal.

Xerxes went on to invade Greece, starting a brief period of Persian conquest in Europe. In the 2,500 years since, historians have debated whether the famed Canal of Xerxes was really dug all the way from coast to coast. Some have doubted its existence, pointing to a rocky plateau that they argue would have made the construction an impossible task for workers of that day.

Now, scientists from Britain and Greece have come up with what they say is conclusive evidence that the canal was indeed built. Using geological information gathered from several yards below the earth's surface, where the structure now lies buried, the scientists have drawn a map detailing the canal's dimensions and course. The findings confirm the description given in an account by the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, which some scholars have long regarded with skepticism.


from The Boston Globe

On the cover, the lithe nude female stares deeply into the eyes of the lithe nude male, her breast just covered by his hand. Inside is a photo spread of a woman in an aquarium, a full-page picture of a pacifier with text that begins ''you suck,'' and another page that is entirely blue, with just a wisp of cloud.

And then there are the ads - Hugo Boss, Kaluha, Evian, Club Monaco, Absolut Citron, Kenzo, Skechers - with more sultry, beautiful people living the life.

This is, of course, a magazine about science.

Calling itself a publication of ''science couture,'' the premier issue of Seed magazine started shipping to newsstands last week. Distributed by AOL Time Warner, the magazine combines breathy articles on brain science and the Big Bang with the glossy look of a fashion magazine. It is an attempt, the editors say, to draw a completely different audience into science - and to combine worlds that nobody has dared bring together.


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Science In the News

The following roundup of science stories appearing each day in the general media is compiled by the Media Resource Service, Sigma Xi's referral service for journalists in need of sources of scientific expertise.

For accurate instructions on how to subscribe or unsubscribe to the listserv, follow this link: http://www.mediaresource.org/instruct.htm

If you experience any problems with the URLs (page not found, page expired, etc.), we suggest you proceed to the home page of "Science In the News" http://www.mediaresource.org/news.htm which mirrors the daily e-mail update.


Today's Headlines - November 12, 2001

from The New York Times

After four grinding years of negotiations, the final details of a pioneering treaty aimed at fighting global warming emerged from talks in Morocco yesterday, and many large industrial countries, excepting the United States, said they were likely to ratify the agreement.

If enacted, and significant hurdles still must be crossed for that to happen, the treaty, called the Kyoto Protocol, would set the first binding restrictions on releases of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases by industrial countries.

President Bush rejected the treaty in March, limiting its reach by putting the United States, the largest source of such gases, on the sidelines. At the time, the decision caused some other countries, most notably Japan, Canada, Russia and Australia, to hesitate.

But after two weeks of discussions in Marrakesh among this group, along with developing countries and the European Union, the treaty's strongest proponent, agreement was reached on a set of compromises.


from The New York Times

For a span of time that lasted thousands of heartbeats and spared thousands of lives, the World Trade Center towers withstood the crashes of two jetliners and the flames stoked by their fuel. But eventually, the fires softened the steel structures, and the twin towers collapsed in a terrifying avalanche.

Now engineers think they are closing in on the specific structural failures that, like a few loose stones on a mountain, set off the deadly sequence of events inside the burning, partly smashed buildings. It could all come down to the sagging steel underpinnings of a few floors, which then tore away connections held by pairs of three-quarter- inch bolts and a pattern of welds where the floors were bound to columns.

Exactly which failure began the sequence - which occurred under extraordinary conditions never envisioned in the buildings' design - remains a matter of intense debate. Some analysts hold that too much evidence was destroyed in the collapses to say for certain.

But a leading theory has emerged as teams have sifted through the wreckage, examined photographs and videos and run computer simulations on aspects of the disaster. Many engineers now believe that relatively lightweight steel trusses holding up the reinforced concrete floors sagged in the heat and failed first when the connections that held them to the tightly spaced palisade of steel columns on the outside of the buildings gave way.


from The Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala., Nov. 9 - Alabama is maintaining its distinction as the only state where biology textbooks include a sticker warning students that evolution is a "controversial theory" that they should question.

The State Board of Education voted without dissent on Thursday to place the disclaimer on the front of 40,000 new biology textbooks to be used in public schools.

After calling evolution a controversial theory, the statement says, "Instructional material associated with controversy should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered." The board included the same statement in guidelines for teachers.

The state first put stickers on biology textbooks in 1996, but those books are being replaced with new editions next year. The new books will be used for the next six years.


from Scripps Howard News Service

For listening to the heart, physicians soon may abandon the stethoscope in favor of laptop-sized echocardiography machines, says a Duke University cardiologist who recently tried them out on more than 500 patients.

He found that while the handheld devices don't give as much detail as their larger, more expensive counterparts, they can detect heart abnormalities requiring further attention, even when used by doctors with just minimal training.

"As a screening tool, they are a major step forward over what we currently use," said Dr. John Alexander, who presented his study Sunday during a scientific meeting of the American Heart Association being held in Anaheim, Calif.

"As a practical matter, they could pick up a large number of patients who have heart abnormalities that cannot be detected by a stethoscope or who have heart disease, but are not yet having symptoms," he added.


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'Rumors of War': Facts, myths in cyberspace


Posted:5:19 PM (Manila Time) | November 09, 2001
By Michel Moutot, Agence France-Presse

NEW YORK – Like most visitors to cyberspace, Barbara and David Mikkelson were awash in the torrent of rumors that inundated the Internet in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, which ranged from ridiculous to plausible, hair-raising to reassuring.

But rather than simply hitting "delete", the California couple put their six years of researching "urban legends" to work, tracking how the rumors start and spread.

Since September 11, the couple has added a new topic to the stories about travel, sex and the fizzy drink Coca Cola that are researched on their website www.snopes.com -- "Rumors of War."

Each of the 78 entries in the "rumors of war" category is color-coded: red is for false, green is for true, yellow represents ambiguous and white admits an unknown origin.

A rumor that garlic cures anthrax, for example, is coded red.

A link sends the curious surfer to a longer version of the rumor, the verdict on its veracity and sometimes several pages worth of information the Mikkelsons have collected.

"The first thing I do is use news databases to see what I can find out about the facts" of any rumor, Barbara Mikkelson said.

Mikkelson said, "We perform various searches of a number of online databases, sometimes we call the people involved in the stories, we use what we know about related legends and stories ... Or we go to UCLA (University of California at Los Angeles) to look into their microfilms archives."

Sometimes a rumor sent globally can be disproved with just a few mouse clicks – like the one about the man who survived the World Trade Center's collapse by surfing down the rubble, or the Arab or Afghan fiancè of a friend's friend who told her to avoid shopping malls on Halloween, or the suspicious disappearance of dozens of US rental trucks.

When a rumor has already been debunked by the media or an organization – like that no Jews were killed when two planes hit New York's twin towers – the website links to the article or exposè in question.

Barbara Mikkelson is not surprised by the proliferation of rumors in the wake of the terrorist attacks, she said.

"It's a normal way for people to try and deal with times like this. What happened was horrifying, and part of the way we try to deal with something we can't comprehend is to try to fill in all the missing spots with information," she said.

An "ongoing sense of dread" of further terrorist attacks is a fertile climate for rumors, she added.

"The anxiety fuels our need to try to make sure that what we are feeling is being felt by others. A number of our fears are being expressed in the stories and rumors. It's how we cope with the horrors of the day," she said.

Although rumors have probably been around since homo sapiens have formed vowel sounds, the Internet has ushered in the tidbits' golden age, enabling them to be sent worldwide, virtually instantaneously and unchanged – and, sometimes, anonymously.

"You got it on the screen, you only have to send it to 30 of your best friends," Mikkelson said.

A rumor most indicative of the human condition is the one concluding that the September 11 attacks were predicted by 16th century French astrologer Nostradamus – a rumor that caused a run on his writings in US bookstores.

"People want so bad to believe that we are not living in a world where anything can happen at any time. It's the truth, but it's too scary a truth for a lot of people," Mikkelson said.

"They'd much rather believe that there are prophets that can foresee everything, and that if bad stuff happens and people die, it's just because we didn't pay attention to what they said or we didn't interpret things correctly," Mikkelson said.
©2001 www.inq7.net all rights reserved

Watergate jailbird sees God in Windows XP


By Andrew Orlowski in San Francisco
Posted: 12/11/2001 at 17:31 GMT

A fascinating mediation on the divine origins of Microsoft's Windows XP reaches us from the former Watergate jailbird turned fundamentalist Christian, Chuck Colson.

Colson was Richard M Nixon's Special Counsel, and in 1974 served seven months for obstruction of justice in the Watergate scandal. But since then, he's rehabilitated himself as a moderate lay preacher, and founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries.

It's the appearance of Windows XP that has got Chuck musing. But about what, exactly, we're not quite sure.

"Can you imagine anyone reverse engineering the new Microsoft software," he asks. And before we you can say "Ximian... Miguel de Icaza!", Colson continues "....and concluding that natural processes put it together?"

Colson then weaves together the existence of Windows XP, DNA, to the tentative conclusion that perhaps we shouldn't dismiss creationism out of hand.

"Does Windows XP somehow prove that Bill Gates or his engineers don't exist?" asks Chuck, incomprehensibly.

"I don't think so," he concludes. The mere existence of the new version Windows should have us all pondering where we came from, advises Colson:-

"The recent release of Windows XP illustrates the concept of intelligent design. If Windows XP points to Bill Gates, how much more do the marvelous complexities of DNA point directly to God, the great Intelligent Designer?"

Well, as the Good Book almost, but not quite says:- it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than get WPA to work after changing your motherboard. ®

Related Link
Colson on Windows XP

Monday, November 12, 2001

Christian "occult investigators" enraged by new Harry Potter flick

According to the Associated Press, the new Harry Potter movie heading to theaters this week has inflamed conservative Christian critics, who claim the boy wizard is "a tool leading children to witchcraft and sin."

One worried critic is Richard Abanes, author of "Harry Potter and the Bible: The Menace Behind the Magick." "Although the story is fictional," he says, "Harry Potter has real-world occult parallels. The books present astrology, numerology mediumship, crystal gazing....Kids are enthralled with it -- and kids like to copy."

Jana Riess of Publishers Weekly points out: "There's a real religious concern. Evangelical Christians believe that witchcraft is real."

Scottish author J.K. Rowling calls the accusations "absurd," stating that Harry Potter's world is entirely imaginary.

"I've met thousands of children now, and not even one time has a child come up to me and said, 'Ms. Rowling, I'm so glad I've read these books because now I want to be a witch,' " the author is quoted as saying.

Though more than 50 million copies are now in print around the world, it does not appear to have inspired any widespread conversions to Paganism or witchcraft.

Peculiarly, even some supporters of church-state separation are said to be against the Potter books. They say the series should be banned from public school libraries, claiming that stories about witches and wizards violate the notion. According to the AP, "others have staged book burnings or circulated phony reports that claim the novels inspired thousands of children to join satanic cults."

A Kansas library recently canceled a public reading of the books, due to complaints from concerned citizens about their magical content. Some children in Jacksonville, Fla., must now present parental permission slips in order to read the books at school libraries.

"Satan is up to his old tricks again and the main focus is the children of the world," Jon Watkins, a Baptist activist, warns. "The whole purpose of these (Potter) books is to desensitize readers and introduce them to the occult."

Christian "occult investigator" David Bay has put up a drawing on his website showing a boy reading a Potter book while sitting on the lap of a grotesque demon that gorily pierces his skull. "Harry Potter conditions children to think of witchcraft as harmless and even fun. That way, when the real Anti-Christ arrives on the scene, they will be preconditioned to accept him," Bay comments.

'Bay and Watkins also denounce Roman Catholicism, Mormonism and much of secular life as nests of evil conspiracies - views outside the beliefs of most Christians.'

Article in full: http://ap.tbo.com/ap/breaking/MGARDVY7UTC.html

From Dave Palmer:

And here's all the "proof" they need:


This would be easier to laugh at if the Onion article hadn't actually been mistaken for real:


Brain's one-card trick yields superior lie test



PATTERNS of brain activity that betray whether a person is lying have been identified, paving the way for brain scans in criminal investigations. Scientists in the United States have discovered that several parts of the brain behave in distinctive fashion during attempts to conceal the truth and that this signature of deceit can be picked up by magnetic resonance scans.

The findings, by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, suggest that the technique could be used as a sophisticated lie detector, much more accurate than today's polygraph tests. The polygraph machine, which monitors breathing rate, pulse, blood pressure and perspiration for signs of nervousness, has been available for 80 years and is used in the US, particularly in espionage cases and by employers wishing to check job applicants' honesty.

Its effectiveness is disputed by scientists and polygraph evidence is not admissible in British courts. It is prone to false positives because it works by measuring stress, which is often, but not always, a sign of deceitfulness. Many researchers believe that it can be fooled easily by an accomplished liar. The CIA double agent Aldrich Ames passed a series of such tests. Wen Ho Lee, the atomic physicist falsely accused of espionage, failed three times.

Using brain scans for a more sophisticated test has long appealed to forensic scientists as it would be almost impossible for a criminal to learn to control the electrical impulses that generate thought. Individual neurons begin to "fire" in response to a stimulus long before a person is conscious of the fact. Such a test requires accurate blueprints of how brain activity looks during deliberate deception and honesty. The Pennsylvania research has supplied those.

In the study, led by Daniel Langleben, 18 volunteers took a guilty knowledge test, while their brains were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Each was given an envelope containing a five of clubs playing card and told to look at the card and hide it without saying which one it was.

They then lay in an fMRI scanner while they were interrogated by a computer that showed them pictures of playing cards, asking: "Do you have this card?" If the five of clubs appeared, they were to deny having it.

When volunteers lied, their brains showed a distinctive pattern of activity, with increased stimulation in the anterior cingulate gyrus and parts of the prefrontal and premotor cortex. These regions deal with concentration and errors, suggesting the person was struggling to overcome a natural inclination to tell the truth.

"Sections of the brain that exercise a significant role in how humans pay attention, and monitor and control errors, were, on average, more active . . . when they were lying than when they were telling the truth," Dr Langleben said. "If truth was the brain's normal default response, then lying would require increased brain activity in the regions involved in inhibition and control."

Dr Langleben, addressing the Society for Neuroscience's annual meeting in San Diego, California, yesterday, said work was needed involving volunteers from a wide range of language and demographic groups, to establish a broad base for comparisons.

Children's drug 'can act like cocaine'

Ritalin, a drug commonly given to hyperactive children, may cause long-term changes to the chemistry of the brain similar to those produced by cocaine. Scientists in America have discovered that the drug, taken by thousands of British children to control attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), continues to have an effect on the brain long after treatment. The research, conducted on young rats, found that Ritalin induced changes to the structure and function of nerve cells. Cocaine and amphetamines have a similar effect, suggesting that Ritalin may have the potential to become addictive. The researchers at the University of Buffalo, New York State, say that this is unlikely at the low doses normally prescribed.

critical thinking tutorial


Sunday, November 11, 2001





November 11, 2001 -- Of all the threats facing our great nation - both credible and those reported by cable news networks - Miss Cleo shouldn't be high on anyone's list. And yet, in a chilling development, the late-night TV psychic has become the target of attorneys general nationwide.

New York recently fined her $224,000 for violating its no-call law, which ensures that people who phone the Consumer Protection Agency and ask to be removed from telemarketing lists are put on hold for three hours.

Mysteriously, even after weeks of treatment, several residents contacted by Miss Cleo still can't get the "Banana Boat Song" out of their heads.

Missouri claims she keeps callers on her 900 line as long as possible by casting spells that render them unable to answer simple questions, like their age or the square root of Finland.

The state is seeking $1.6 million in restitution from the soothsayer, plus 100 hours of community service, during which she must perform exorcisms on overprivileged children.

To date, 12 attorneys general have filed phone-violation charges against Miss Cleo, with a 13th planning to do so as soon as he can get the locusts off his desk.

Many more have questioned her authenticity, citing a passport that shows her real name as "Ted Koppel."

Clearly, this is a case of persecution by political leaders, who live in fear of anyone who dresses differently from them and can shrink a man's head to the size of Ping-Pong ball.

Potent though her powers may be, however, Miss Cleo is largely benevolent. Each day she provides millions of Americans with invaluable advice on issues ranging from romance to careers to shopping for monkey skulls.

This is done chiefly through tarot cards, MasterCards and American Express cards.

(A proven method of prognostication, tarot dates back to the Middle Ages, well before psychics had their own TV shows, though they would occasionally turn up on "Ted Mack's Amateur Hour.")

She also provides personalized astrological readings, wherein viewers are told in astonishing detail what will happen to them unless they call her each week.

As for authenticity, Miss Cleo, a native of Jamaica, earned a Ph.D. in telepathic studies from Princeton. This without once setting foot in New Jersey.

At a time when America needs spiritual guidance most, suppressing Miss Cleo will inevitably lead to chaos and despair.

If this campaign against her continues, how long before psychics everywhere are seated before a Senate subcommittee - while Joseph Lieberman pressures them to name names on the winner of next year's Kentucky Derby?

E-mail your comments to: precchia@nypost.com

Saturday, November 10, 2001

Psychics join the manhunt


US intelligence agencies are recruiting psychics to help predict future attacks and to find Osama Bin Laden. The recruits, known as "remote viewers", claim to be able to visualise happenings in distant places by using paranormal powers.

The US government established a remote viewing programme, known as Stargate, in the 1970s in an attempt to utilise the skills claimed by psychics to combat communism. The programme, at the Stanford Research Institute in California, was shut down in 1995 after the end of the cold war.

Now, however, US intelligence agencies are reactivating some of their old paranormal spies.

Prudence Calabrese, whose Transdimensional Systems employs 14 remote viewers, confirmed that the FBI had asked the company to predict likely targets of future terrorist attacks.

"Our reports suggest a sports stadium could be a likely target," she said.

The FBI and CIA refused to comment but confirmed investigators have been told to "think out of the box".

Angela Thompson-Smith and Lyn Buchanan, former members of Stargate, said that they, too, had been approached.

$1 Million Challenge To Disprove Evidence Of Life After Death


A reward of one million U.S. dollars is offered to any sceptic anywhere in the world who can rebut and refute beyond absolute all [sic] the evidence for the existence of the afterlife.

Why the challenge?

The million U.S.dollar reward is guaranteed by four Sydney lawyers including myself - all experts in evidence - who, after examining the circumstances and the evidence, stated that initially it is only reasonable, fair and equitable to match and to mirror the skeptics' fundamental conditions one by one as the skeptics have had them on the Internet for a number of years now.

Countering the skeptics offer

I concede that the skeptics' million dollar offer has been used very successfully - the offer has been huge propaganda against psychics and universal truth - it has fooled and conned journalists, radio and TV interviewers. It has been a powerful tool for the dissemination of global darkness. The media's pet rent-a-skeptic vociferates on behalf of some 2% of the population yet is given exaggerated time and space in the media.

What evidence?

The applicant has to rebut beyond absolute doubt (the same test used by closed-minded skeptics ) the substantive objective and other evidence for the following - not the full list: Materialisation, Electronic Voice Phenomenon, Instrumental Transcommunication, the Scole Experiments, Professor Gary Schwartz' Experiments; Mediumship - Mental, Physical and Direct Voice; Xenoglossy, Myers Cross Correspondence, Proxy Sittings, Automatic Etheric Writing; Laboratory Experiments; Poltergeists; Apparitions; Near Death Experiences and Out of Body Experiences.

Examples of each of these kinds of evidence are presented in my book A Lawyer Presents the Case for the Afterlife, Arthur Findlay's On the Edge of the Etheric, Ronald Pearson's Intelligence Behind the Universe, Sir William Crookes' On Human Personality and Researches in the Phenomena of Spiritualism, Sir Oliver Lodge's Raymond and Geraldine Cummins' Swan on a Black Sea.

An impossible task?

A few skeptics have already applied - those who bothered to respond answered in words to the effect: "Where do you start, it is impossible to rebut!" That is EXACTLY the psychics' argument - not only is it IMPOSSIBLE to rebut the evidence - my three expert professional litigation lawyer colleagues and I in this matter claim it can NEVER be rebutted.

The challenge

Here is the challenge for those skeptics who have been continuously campaigning in the media that there is no afterlife - those closed minded sceptics especially in England and a couple in the United States who have been crusading around the world denigrating, destroying and demeaning the credibility of gifted psychics, trying to dismiss the positive evidence being produced for the afterlife.

Will these high-flying skeptics, who have been wilfully misperceiving psychic phenomena have the courage to apply for the reward? Or will these crusading English, American and Canadian skeptics push cowardice to its extreme and in great humiliation chicken out?

There is a danger that if these said materialist, closed minded skeptics do not take on the offer the public will always remember their names as the greatest fools and frauds in psychic history. From the UK and the US the very impatient public expect anti-afterlife skeptics and debunkers such as Dr Susan Blackmore, Dr Richard Wiseman, Dr Chris French, James Randi, Paul Kurtz the founder of CSICOP in the US, and others to take on the challenge.

Register for the challenge

To register for the $1 U.S.Million Challenge send an email to challenge@victorzammit.com.


Friday, November 09, 2001

Leonids Meteor Shower and Articles of Note

The Leonids Meteor Shower of 2001 (November 18)

A Fact Sheet by Andrew Fraknoi
(Foothill College & Astronomical Society of the Pacific)

What's Happening?

Every year, when the Earth passes through the dust and debris of old Comet Tempel-Tuttle, we get an increase in the number of "shooting stars" (meteors). This regular November "meteor shower" is called the Leonids, after the constellation of Leo, the direction from which the paths of the shooting stars seem to originate in the sky.

Every 33 years or so, however, the old comet itself comes by the inner solar system in its orbit around the Sun (it was closest to our star in Feb. 1998). As it nears the Sun, the comet's ice evaporates, freeing more dust, which it leaves in its path (much like a trail of kids shedding candy wrappers on the way home from Halloween.) This year, experts predict that the Earth will pass through an especially thick ribbon of dust during the morning of November 18th (between 1 and 3 am Pacific Time.) Thus we may get to see a "meteor storm" with over a thousand shooting stars in an hour (but this is always hard to forecast exactly.)

What are Shooting Stars?

They are small particles (from dust-sized to pea-sized, for the most part) that hit the Earth's atmosphere at enormous speed. As they burn up from friction, they produce a brief flash of light, visible from miles away. (They have nothing to do with stars, but got their name long ago, before we understood their true nature.)

What is the Best Way to Observe Shooting Stars?

Meteor showers (or storms) are very democratic they can happen anywhere in the sky, and do not require any special equipment to see. In fact, using telescopes or binoculars will limit your view to a small spot of sky, and you are likely to miss most of the shooting stars. The biggest problems in seeing the faint meteors are city lights, clouds, and moonlight. This year, happily, the Moon will set before the meteor shower reaches its peak.

So here are Fraknoi's Five Friendly Hints for Meteor Observing:
1. Get away from city lights.
2. Give your eyes at least 10-15 minutes to get adapted to the dark and then scan the whole sky.
3. Sit or lie back in a place where you can see as much sky as possible and be patient.
4. Dress warm and take a thermos of hot chocolate.
5. Go with someone with whom you like to sit in the dark; it's more fun that way.

When is the Best Time to See the Shooting Stars?

If there is a meteor storm this year, it is predicted between 1 to 3 am Pacific time (4 - 6 am Eastern time) Sunday morning (Nov. 18th). While this is great for adults (since the next day is not a work day), it can be hard on children. Any time Saturday night (and probably even Sunday night), you should see more shooting stars than usual, as long as you go to a location where it is somewhat dark. (For more see: http://www.astrosociety.org/pubs/mercury/111pr/leonids.html )

Andrew Fraknoi
Astronomy Department, Foothill College


Articles of Note - Thanks to Joe Littrell

Cult Status
By Kirsten Marcum
Twin City Pages


""Look around the circle and decide which four people you find most attractive.""

Shakespeare Revealed
by Mark K. Anderson
New Mass. Media


"For all the heated accusations he faced, you'd think he was a slash-and-burn corporate raider on the rampage or a revolutionary scheming the overthrow of some third-world despot. In reality, all Daniel Wright did was plan an academic conference."

Fresh clue to homeopath mystery
BBC News


"Many scientists think it is physically impossible for homeopathy to work - but new research suggests how remedies might be having an effect."

Time Inc. enlists astrologer to help sell magazines
By Andrea Orr


"Call it a new kind of business partnership for the new economy. Or maybe just a sign that corporate America has gone New Age."

Obnoxious Buzz
by T.M. Shine
CityLink Online


"A morning DJ starts a hoax about West Palm Beach's Moonfest. Were his motives more selfish than stupid?"

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Supernatural Themes in 'Harry Potter' Continue to Anger Certain Conservative Christian Critics


By Anthony BreznicanAssociated Press Writer
Published: Nov 9, 2001

LOS ANGELES (AP) - The new Harry Potter movie heading to theaters next week has enflamed a small legion of conservative Christian critics who claim the boy wizard is a tool leading children to witchcraft and sin.

But as anticipation grows for "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," other Christians insist the stories are harmless fantasies about magic and morals.

Astrologer Says Laden Search to Frustrate US

BANGALORE, India (Reuters) - A leading Indian astrologer who says she predicted the September 11 attacks in the United States believes Washington's hunt for Osama Bin Laden may end up in frustration . . .


Alabama Biology Textbooks to Warn Students About Evolution

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Alabama is maintaining its distinction as the only state where biology textbooks include a sticker warning students that evolution is a "controversial theory" they should question . . .


New York Times version of the same AP story:


Textbook Letter story about the original Alabama "evolution disclaimer" and sticker:


Textbook Letter story about attempt to transplant the Alabama disclaimer to Oklahoma:


Science In the News

The following roundup of science stories appearing each day in the general media is compiled by the Media Resource Service, Sigma Xi's referral service for journalists in need of sources of scientific expertise.

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If you experience any problems with the URLs (page not found, page expired, etc.), we suggest you proceed to the home page of "Science In the News" http://www.mediaresource.org/news.htm which mirrors the daily e-mail update.


Today's Headlines - November 9, 2001

from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Stem cell colonies approved for federally funded research now number 72, eight more than were identified earlier in the year, the government reported Wednesday.

The National Institutes of Health posted a list of the approved cells lines on the Internet in what it calls a "Human Embryonic Stem Cell Registry."

The registry is part of a system established by the Bush administration after plans for humans stem cell research created heated debates between some scientific groups and conservative religious organizations.


from The New York Times

Talks in Morocco aimed at finishing a pioneering climate treaty headed into a final sprint last night, with negotiators from more than 160 countries haggling over a few important details.

If enacted, the treaty, called the Kyoto Protocol, would be the first international agreement requiring reductions in releases of heat-trapping greenhouse gases linked to global warming.

President Bush rejected the treaty in March, saying it would harm the economy and unfairly apply only to industrialized countries.

The decision put the United States - the largest source of greenhouse gases - on the sidelines drew strong criticism from much of the rest of the world.


from The New York Times

In the race to make computer chips that are ever faster and ever smaller, scientists at Harvard University have grown tiny crystal rods of silicon and other semiconductors, then sluiced them onto chips to form rudimentary circuits that perform basic logic operations.

Compared with competing techniques, the semiconductor rods, or nanowires, are easier to make and manipulate, and they may be easier to miniaturize to the sizes needed for superfast computer chips. "They have a lot of advantages in that we can control their properties quite well," said Dr. Charles M. Lieber, a professor of chemistry at Harvard who led the research.

Dr. Lieber said the nanowires might also make "unbelievably good sensors" for proteins, DNA and other biological molecules. Among other things, that could aid the development of devices to detect pathogens like anthrax.

The findings are reported today in the journal Science.


from The Christian Science Monitor

PHOENIX, Ariz - To help answer the question of whether life has emerged elsewhere in the solar system than on Earth, astrobiologists look to Mars and Jupiter's ice-sheathed moon, Europa, as potential incubators.

But for a look at how key chemical ingredients - carbon, seasoned with hydrogen, nitrogen and other elements - may have mixed to form the pre-biotic building blocks necessary for organic life to emerge, researchers are looking to Saturn's moon, Titan.

Taken together, researchers say, these three - Mars, Europa and Titan - may unlock the secrets of the evolution of organic material in the universe, from simple atoms forged in stars to the rich complexity of organic life on Earth. Of the three, Titan remains the most enigmatic, says Jonathan Lunine, a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona in Tucson and a member of the Cassini-Huygens mission to study Saturn and its systems of rings and moons.


from The Christian Science Monitor

It's an underwater nightclub scene that could drown out the overtures of even the most virtuosic terrestrial Romeo. The relentless rat-a-tat-tat of the male cusk eel and the hours-long humming of the midshipman fish may sound like downtown street noise to the human ear. But to potential mates, these underwater troubadours are the piscine versions of Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra, crooning love songs in the moonlight.

Although whale song has long been documented in ships' logs, it wasn't until World War II that scientists and the military first noticed the sounds of fish and the snapping of crustaceans. So far, more than 700 species of saltwater and freshwater fish throughout the world are known to vocalize, but scientists say the total number is likely much higher. Most of the time, the sounds come from male fish during mating.

But fish also are known to screech, croak, and growl when they defend their turf, become startled, or get caught or hurt by predators. Some female fish also can make sounds, but they tend to be softer. Male and female fish can also communicate through their mating songs to synchronize the release of eggs and sperm.


from Reuters

LONDON (Reuters) - Genetic engineering, often slammed by environmental and consumer groups for its role in altering staple foods, may have found a niche where it can help save the lives of millions from the world's most endemic diseases.

By using biotechnology to incorporate useful genes into an almost limitless variety of common plants, from rapeseed and tobacco to potato, tomato and banana, scientists aim to produce cheap and stable vaccines in an edible form -- and beat disease.

Scourges such as cholera, tuberculosis and hepatitis, all responsible for the deaths of millions every year including many children in developing countries, have been targeted as candidates for vaccines which can be engineered from plants. And in another use of biotechnology, there is now some realistic hope that mankind's centuries-old battle against malaria may soon be nearing its end due to a breakthrough last year in producing the world's first transgenic mosquito.


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